$399 / AU$769 starting price | US$629.99 / AU$1,039 as reviewed (Core i3/8GB RAM/128GB
SSD) at Microsoft.
Microsoft touts its 10.5-inch Surface Go 3 tablet as its most
mobile Surface. While that's definitely true, what else does the
new Surface Go 3 have to offer? A small processor bump, Windows 11,
and, well, that's about it.
The Surface Go 3 is essentially the same device as the Surface
Go 2. We don't consider Windows 11 to be necessarily worth the upgrade, which robs the
Surface Go 3 of its appeal. As for the processor upgrade — yes,
there's now a 10th-gen Core i3 option, but it doesn't really move
the needle performance-wise.
Go 3: basic features and available configurations
Microsoft's Surface Go 3 is available in three configurations,
ranging from US$399.99 on up to US$629.99, which is the price of our
review unit. We wouldn't recommend the US$399.99 base model (with a
Pentium Gold 6500Y, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage) because the
4GB of memory isn't sufficient for running multiple apps. The other
configurations, including a midrange version (Pentium Gold
6500Y/8GB RAM/128GB SSD: US$549.99) and the premium offering (Intel
Core i3/8GB RAM/128GB SSD: US$629.99), round out the offerings.
The Surface Go 3 is unique because there aren't many small,
inexpensive Windows tablets vying for your wallet. Otherwise, the
Go 3 is priced similarly to Microsoft's budget clamshell laptop,
the Surface Laptop
Go, which also has a US$549.99 discounted version that includes a
Core i5-1035G1 with 8GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. The Laptop Go's
screen is a definite step down, however.
Unlike the prior Surface Go 2, the current version of the
Surface Go 3 consumer version doesn't ship with cellular options.
It's a somewhat odd omission, though our Go 2 review indicated that its cellular
reception was spotty. Microsoft reserved the LTE option for what it
calls the Surface Go 3 for Business, which ships in both a US$499.99 (Core i3/4GB RAM/64GB SSD) and a US$679.99 (Core i3/8GB
RAM/128GB SSD) configuration, each with an LTE SIM tray that the
consumer version lacks. The Business configuration also allows you
to chose either Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro, an odd choice
given the optional 4GB RAM configuration.
Unlike the Surface Pro 8, the Surface Go's Type Cover has
not been redesigned to accommodate the Surface Slim Pen
2. And yes, you still have to buy the keyboard separately. The
Type Cover's prices range from US$59.99 to US$129.99, depending on
color and available discounts. For inking, there's the older US$99.99
Surface Pen. Unfortunately, there's no pen loop to secure the pen
with the Go 3, though the side of the tablet is magnetized to help
keep the pen in place when not in use.
The rear of the
Microsoft Surface Go 3, showing the rear camera, volume rocker, and
power switch.Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
- Processor: Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y, Core
i3-10100Y (Core i3 as tested)
- Display: 10.5-inch PixelSense (1920×1280, 220
- Memory: 4GB/8GB LPDDR3 (8GB as tested)
- Storage: 64 GB (eMMC) /128GB (SSD) (128GB as
- Graphics: UHD Graphics 615
- Ports: USB-C (5Gbps), Surface Connect,
microSDXC, Surface Connect, Surface Type Cover
- Security: Windows Hello depth camera
- Camera: User-facing: 5.0MPixel (1080p video);
Rear-facing: 8.0MP (1080p video)
- Battery: 26.8Wh (design), 26.0Wh (full)
- Wireless: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth
- Operating system: Windows 11 Home in S
- Dimensions: 9.65. x 6.9 x 0.33in. (8.3mm)
- Weight: 1.2 pounds (without keyboard)
- Color: Platinum
- Optional accessories: Surface Go Type Cover (US$84.99-$129.99 / AU$149.95 - AU$199.95 MSRP), Surface Pen (US$99.99 / AU$132.00)
The Surface Go 3 looks physically identical to its predecessor,
with slightly thinner bezels than the original to accommodate the
10.5-inch, 1920×1280 PixelSense display. Microsoft typically uses
the chunky bezels as landing pads for your fingers and thumbs. It
seems they've dimmed the display a bit, however, as we recorded a
maximum brightness of 374 nits as opposed to the Go 2's 483 nits.
Like its predecessors, the Go 3 does away with the fan as well as
the vents, letting the magnesium chassis passively radiate any heat
that the tablet generates.
Out of the box, the most significant change to the Surface Go 3
involves the transition to Windows 11, specifically the addition of
Windows 11 Home in S Mode. This means two different things. First,
setup involves stepping through the soothing sequence of
introductions as described in our Windows 11 review. Secondly, Windows 11 Home in
S Mode handcuffs you by restricting apps to the Microsoft Store, as
Windows 10 S (Windows 10 Home in S Mode)
This restriction helps secure the PC by ensuring that you'll
only download apps that Microsoft has nominally vetted. But if you
want to download a third-party browser like Google Chrome, for
example, you can't. We also have yet to see tangible upgrades in
the performance and battery life that Microsoft originally promised
with S Mode. All this means is that I quickly switched out of Windows 11 in S Mode for the
real Windows 11 Home, which took a minute or two.
The secondary hinge
(the narrow ridge at the top of the keyboard) of the Surface Go
Type Cover keyboard doesn't grasp the keyboard as firmly as rival
tablets do. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Using the Surface Go 3 feels more like a mobile experience than
a typical tablet or laptop (even during a pandemic). Windows 11's
updated tablet experience simply adds a small software-based
keyboard to the UI when the keyboard is undocked, which allows you
to freely wander about the house. The Go 3's narrow display bezels
are about a fingers width apart and the compact dimensions make it
uniquely suited to using it as a traditional tablet.
You can use the Go 3 while at a desk or you can easily throw it
into a backpack. Like previous Surface Go devices, however, I found
it much easier to use at a desk than on my lap. There's one part on
the Type Cover's dual-hinge that holds onto the tablet fast,
preventing the keyboard from flipping backwards and out of your
lap. But the secondary hinge detaches easily, flopping the keyboard
down into a flat (and uncomfortable) orientation. To be fair, the
Go's size does allow for working under cramped conditions such as
on a train's pull-down table.
Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Consuming as well as creating digital content, however, has its
wrinkles. For one, the Surface Go 3 hasn't yet migrated to using
Thunderbolt, which means that you'll still need to use either the
Surface Dock (or
the newer, pricier Surface
Dock 2) to connect to an external display. The Surface Go can
also connect via a USB-C dongle to an external display, to a single
1080p display or a 4K monitor running at 30 Hz.
and webcam: a decent value
The Surface Go 3's keyboard remains unchanged from the Surface
Go 2, so my opinion hasn't changed either. A small tablet means a
small keyboard, one that's tolerable (though a bit uncomfortable)
to type upon for long periods of time. The keyboard's key travel
remains at a shallow 1mm, with less key travel than some of the
other excellent keyboards within the Surface lineup. A child's
fingers may be small enough to type on the keys, but adults won't
really enjoy it.
As for the audio, the tablet features a pair of front-facing 2W
stereo speakers enhanced by Dolby Audio. It offers a satisfactory
(even good) audio experience. While Microsoft has dialed down the
blaring speaker volume from the Surface Go, it offers a solid mix
of high-end and midrange audio. I never felt the need to plug in a
pair of earbuds into the headphone jack, which is one of the higher
compliments that you can give a laptop or tablet.
On the left-hand side
of the Surface Go 3 is the Surface Connect charging and I/O port, a
USB-C port, and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
The front-facing 5.0Mpixel webcam continues to provide decent
color saturation and lighting, though without the new lighting and
color sensors added to the Surface Pro 8. With the easy migration
of photos between smartphones and PCs, the rear-facing camera seems
less necessary with each passing generation. But the Go's small
size makes snapping a photo less awkward than with larger tablets
and the 8Mpixel resolution is plenty sufficient for capturing
documents and well-lit scenes.
The Go also features dual far-field mics. However, the
importance of such mics has diminished as Microsoft has eased away
from an environment where users are expected to call across the
room to Windows' built-in Cortana assistant.
Still, there's certainly something to be said for a
video-friendly tablet. My youngest son uses a Windows laptop for
remote schooling and a tablet for video chatting with his friends,
and the Surface Go 3 combines the two.
Underneath the hinge
lurks a microSD slot, a carryover from Surfaces of old. Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Inking isn't particularly impressive. I tried inking with the
Surface Slim Pen and there's noticeable line offset and significant
jitter (a wavy motion) when moving the pen at a diagonal. The Go 3
is fine for casually drawing, but nothing more.
The Surface Go 3
keyboard is a bit small and cramped, but more comfortable for
smaller fingers.Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Not much improvement
We tested the Surface Go 3 using our standard benchmarks and
real-world tests. The Go 3 streamed a 4K/60 YouTube video without
dropping a frame. YouTube scales video to the size of the display
it detects, however, so the tablet was essentially downloading a
720p video and upscaling it. When we connected to a 4K display, it
appeared to drop about 40 percent of its frames before YouTube
dialed back the resolution to 1080p, which streamed flawlessly.
We didn't try any games with the Go 3, but it performed fairly
typical tasks like web browsing, Zoom/Teams, and streaming video.
Be mindful that anything under 8GB of RAM may limit the number of
tabs you can have open at any one time and the number of apps you
can run simultaneously.
Finally, it's worth noting that Microsoft ships many of its
recent Surface tablets and notebooks with performance turned down
to minimal levels to maximize battery life. We adjusted the Windows 11 power mode to best performance to
see if the tablet ran any faster. It did, but only by about 6
percent at most — adjusting the power/performance levels certainly
won't transform a Surface Go 3 into a speed demon. It will,
however, help elevate performance above the Surface Go 2 in some
Otherwise, we run four performance tests: PCMark 10, Cinebench
R15, Handbrake, and 3DMark. Most of these are geared at
higher-performing mainstream laptops like the Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable, the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable Gen 1, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+, and the new Surface Pro 8. While understanding how the
Surface Go 3 compares to those tablets is useful, it's perhaps more
illustrative to see how far the tablet has progressed from the
second-gen Surface Go 2 instead. We've highlighted the Go 2 in
UL's PCMark10 benchmark puts the tablet through a variety of
tasks like web browsing, light gaming, CAD work, video editing, and
more. It's a solid measure of how well the Surface Go 3 will fare
in day-to-day work. Here, the Go 3's performance dips by about 2
percent. With the power mode's performance setting turned up to
best performance, the Go 3 records a score of 2,804.
In many tests, the
Surface Go 2 and 3 finished neck and neck. There were a few where
the older Surface Go 2 appeared faster, however.
Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
The older Cinebench R15 test measures how well the Surface Go 3
performs with all of its cores and threads in active use.
Unfortunately, any application that can take full advantage of all
the laptop's cores and threads will see more benefit from a
six-core or eight-core processor rather than the two-core
four-thread Core i3-10100Y. Remember, we're testing the
top-of-the-line version of the Surface Go 3.
Cinebench test again reveals that performance isn't the selling
point of the Surface Go 3.Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
What's interesting is that we're seeing the older Surface Go 2
report higher scores than the Surface Go 3, both in multithreaded
applications as well as single-threaded applications (126 to 119).
If you do buy the Go 3, consider adjusting the power mode upwards.
In Best performance mode, it reported a multithreaded score of 260,
and a single-threaded score of 132.
We used Handbrake, which is an open-source transcoding tool, as
a prolonged stress test of the processor. Using this tool, we
converted video from its native format down to a lower-resolution
format for playing back on a tablet. The test typically lasts over
an hour. Can the fanless Surface Go 3 keep up with more powerful
tablets? Our results say no, not really. In performance mode, the
time required to perform the task dipped 3 percent to 7,847
Hollywood movie with the Surface Go 3 takes about as long as do as
watching the movie itself.Image:Mark Hachman / IDG
Our final test uses the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. It's futile
to test the Surface Go 3 as a gaming tablet, but we've provided the
numbers for reference. It's important to note that the Go 3 and the
Go 2 use the same GPU. Only the CPU has changed between the two
products. At maximum performance, the 3DMark score increased 6
percent to 385.
You won't be playing
games with the Surface Go 3, which might be a boon in disguise for
parents.Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
Since the Go 3 uses approximately the same amount of battery
capacity as its predecessors, we expected similar battery life. We
weren't disappointed. It still provides slightly less than eight
hours of battery life, meaning that you'll need to tote along the
charger to keep it running through a full day's work.
Image: Mark Hachman / IDG
have two tablets to choose from
At some point we may ask our colleagues at Macworld to help
compare the iPad, the Surface Go 3, and an Android tablet. For now,
we're comfortable in advising you to select whatever OS suits your
fancy. You probably shouldn't be choosing a Surface Go 3 — or an
iPad — for performance, but for the convenience and portability
factor. There's a reason you'll often see Microsoft's Surface Go 3
accompanied by photos of kids and business travelers — this is very
much a niche product, no pun intended.
There's an unexpected secondary option, too. We wouldn't
necessarily recommend the Surface Go 2 over the newest Surface Go
3, but we can see why you might consider it. With comparable
performance plus an available LTE consumer option (plus Windows 10,
if you prefer the older operating system) an older, discounted
Surface Go 2 might offer more value. Officially, the MSRP for both
the Go 2 and Go 3 are about the same.
Put simply, there's little reason to buy the Surface Go 3 over
the Surface Go 2, though buying a new PC means that it will still
be covered under the Go 3's one-year limited hardware warranty.
Otherwise, we'd recommend you use our pricing tool just above and
explore your Go 2 options if Microsoft's small portable tablet is
your first choice. The Surface Go 3 simply doesn't differentiate
itself enough from last year's model to justify much